Production: Diamonds in the mud

Saatchi & Saatchi's latest showcase unearths sparkling new directing talent from around the world.

Paul Arden, Saatchi & Saatchi's executive creative director, stopped the reel and demanded of the booing, baying audience in Cannes' Debussy Theatre: "I don't know what's wrong with you people. Do you have tin eyes?"

It was 1991. He had just begun rolling the first of Saatchis' now annual showreels of fresh directorial talent from around the globe.

When Cannes came around the following year, it was the turn of Bob Isherwood, now Saatchis' worldwide creative director, to present the crop of new directors. As the booing crescendoed, he, too, halted the reel. "I said: 'OK, I'd just like to point out that the work you've just seen is that of Ridley and Tony Scott when they were at the same stage as the directors you're about to see now,'" he recalls. "That got quite a different response."

That's not to say that the showreel that now plays to 3,000-plus in an overspilling Palais des Festivals totally avoids all cat-calls these days. But the event was "reframed", Isherwood says, and viewers understand the purpose of seeking out unpolished work.

In fact, now that the showcase is so eagerly anticipated and one of Cannes' best-attended sessions, the aim is most certainly to jolt the audience into a reaction - whether positive or negative. Richard Myers, Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide's creative director, ideas company culture, admits: "We're always in favour of having stuff that frightens the horses. You're not successful if you don't get a reaction."

This year's tally from those who have directed commercials for less than two years - if ever - fits that brief entirely. Humour is thin on the ground. "There's a certain viciousness, a meanness of spirit around," Myers notes. The short film from Amy Gebhardt, for example, is set up to look normal, but strings out a tension over eight minutes "that leaves you feeling drained".

Isherwood suggests young people are now more serious and more cynical. He notes that humour is incredibly difficult to do well and that commercials, which often provide directors with amusing scripts, form a minority of submitted work this year. That's the opposite of ten years ago, when ads outweighed the short films and music promos that now festoon the 500 reels initially put forward by Saatchis' creative directors around the world.

This reverse skew is just one manifestation of the clunking impact the accessibility of technology is having on the business of directing and the career paths chosen by hopeful novices.

Directors: are becoming "content providers rather than intrusion masters", as the advertising model migrates from intrusion to attraction, Isherwood says. Other significant future changes might include the need for differing time lengths - no longer just the 30-second burst - and the fusion of animation and real-life action.

And the route to the ad directing casting couch can be much more circuitous these days: cheap technology puts the tools in the hands of the many, and the explosion of social networking sites provides a screen (and audience) for almost anything.

As a result, one of the most noticeable trends this year is the high level of animation among submissions. Josh Raskin's animated interpretation of an impromptu interview between John Lennon and a teenager is one that made it on the shortlist. Similarly, the rise of the YouTube phenomenon helped put Trish Sie's OK Go's music promo in front of the judges; it won the site's "most creative" award this year.

Yet, digitalisation - and the democratisation it seemingly brings - also delivers fresh challenges.

"Creative people couldn't wish to live in a better age than this because we have more tools with which to express our ideas and outlets for them," Isherwood says. But technology can also "complicate and confuse powerful ideas", he warns. He quotes David Bailey's observation that computers can make average people look great and great people really average.

As Myers puts it: "The freedom of expression (of sites such as YouTube) is fantastic, but at the moment, it's a bit like the monkeys have been given the pencils to play with." And when sifting through a heavy intake of animated entries, "what stands out has to be really, really good. Diamonds in the mud."

What makes a great director is what always has, however. "The ability to make emotional connections," Isherwood says. "The ability to take a script or idea and enhance it. And that's no small task, because some of the time they make them worse - by confusing an idea, not telling it in a simple and compelling way and by over-complication with superficial veneers."

Among this year's showcase, however, are nestling some of the best examples in the world of people "who have managed to create something quite unique", Isherwood says. The showreel has spawned a raft of big names in the past. There will be some on this reel who will emerge as the great players of the future. Of that, Isherwood is sure. Even if they are booed today.

The reel will be shown at 10.45am on 21 June at www.canneslions.com.


Vince Squibb says he has no friends and doesn't get out much, blaming notorious workaholism. Staying in can't be that bad, however, when you can revel in the sight of a mantelpiece as jammed full of awards as his might be.

Squibb is one of the most awarded creatives in London. He has worked for Lowe London on high-profile brands such as Stella Artois, Reebok, Smirnoff Vodka, Coca-Cola and HSBC. For Stella alone, he has picked up more than 60 gongs.

But, in January 2006, Squibb left Lowe for Gorgeous to concentrate on a directing career. Clients have included Nissan, Tesco, Nestle, Barclays and Transport for London.

In "The day you went to work", a simple storyline details a man's daily routine as he gets ready and heads for work. Its ordinariness lures the viewer into believing that it is mundane, Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide's Richard Myers notes. When that journey is abruptly cut short with a collision, "the fact there is no tension makes it more shocking", Myers says. Nor is the crash over-egged. "Poetic," he concludes.


The Italian directing duo of Paolo Borgato and Tommaso Berte began working in production when very young: Borgato, in order to raise money to visit his girlfriend in Paris; Berte, in order to find a girlfriend.

Borgato went on to spend ten years working as a production manager and a producer - and to have three children with the woman who inspired his career. He also worked as an editor, a photographer and a first assistant on feature films.

Berte, on the other hand, started out as a production assistant after film school in France, returned to Italy to work as a directors' scout, and then became a producer.

Their paths finally crossed while producing commercials in Milan, and they began shooting fake films together for fun.

The duo's film, "Freddy, the human machine" for the Freddy clothing range, is one of the few examples of levity on the showreel. Its central character performs a complicated acrobatic routine in which mechanical devices also play a carefully choreographed part.

Myers points to the humour in its subtle touches - when the central character drinks from a glass of water while bouncing on a trampoline, for instance.

Also, its attention to detail, seen, for example, in balloons in the colours of the Italian flag. "They don't have to be there, but the piece is better with them," Myers says. The work is "so seamless and graceful", he adds. "It's delightful and playful and overcomes the industrial feel."


With Look Sharp, Amy Gebhardt creates an emotional tension in her handling of the suppressed emotional needs of three individuals. The eight-minute short film leaves an audience feeling drained, Myers says, citing it as an example of a rash of "dark" work submitted this year. The Australian's experience cuts across both drama and documentaries, for which she has won prizes as a writer, a director and a cinematographer.

Gebhardt, who has a film degree and a Masters in directing, has written and directed six short films and shot more than 15 films as a cinematographer. Her documentaries include the 36-minute A Night at the Drive-in for SBS Television.


Johnny Green's "satellite" ad for the Audi A6 is a "very accomplished piece of work", Saatchi & Saatchi's worldwide creative director, Bob Isherwood, says, adding that it's hard to believe its director is not highly experienced. "It's a really mature piece of film-making, so visually rich and with no wasted frame," Myers says. Incredibly, Green only began directing in 2005 when he joined Knucklehead. The Manchester-born 38-year-old studied theatre design and has a Masters from London's Slade School of Art. He has worked in New York (as an assistant to a music video set designer), Sydney (as a fashion photographer's assistant) and as a production designer in London.


In 1969, a 14-year-old boy managed to blag himself an interview with John Lennon in his hotel bedroom. It's a fascinating piece of footage that Josh Raskin has succeeded in amplifying with fast-moving animation in I Met the Walrus.

The Canadian writer/director/animator spent four years with the new media programme at Ryerson University in Toronto, and is part of the Play Airways collective, a motion graphics and animation team. He has made a small number of short films; his style often to "reupholster" old work.

With the highest-ever number of animation entries this year, Raskin had to be outstanding to make it to the shortlist. The "projection of the mind" in this film, Myers says, "is both witty and pointed". And such dedication and attention to detail ("How many days and nights must he have spent doing that?") are essential attributes of a great director, he notes.


A writer-turned-director, Tony Barry brings a lightness of touch to the "roadies" ad for the radio station Xfm.

In replacing adult roadies with children in the faux documentary, Barry manages to retain an understatement in the humour.

"Teasing unselfconscious performances out of the adults and children was admirable," Myers says. "He's got the dramatic feel right." The seriousness of the Xfm staff praising the dedication of their roadies is neatly contradicted by shots of the children playing with a van and dropping a guitar down a flight of stairs, for example.

Advertising is not new to Barry. He has had a career writing award-winning ads for UK agencies for such brands as Nike, Whiskas, Heineken, British Airways and Tesco.

A former creative director of Wieden & Kennedy and Lowe & Partners, Barry joined the production company Hungry Man in 2006. He has directed spots for Fallon, Lowe, Mother, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and JWT, and scooped a gold and three silvers at this year's British Television Advertising Awards.


"This is the year of the choreographer," Myers declares.

Trish Sie's Here It Goes Again music promo for the band OK Go (which is fronted by her brother Damian Kulash) won the "most creative" award 2007 on the social networking site YouTube and the 2007 Grammy award for best video. It has reportedly been viewed more than 17 million times on YouTube.

Its playfulness and use of an ordinary treadmill to create a clever and visually engaging film has catapulted the American on to this year's new directors' shortlist.

Sie has also choreographed for commercials, Rufus Wainwright's world tour, the pro-ballroom DanceSport Championships, musical theatre, and other music videos.

"If you think about it," Myers says, "most directors are choreographers." This entry is "simple and smart".

Sie's Backyard Dance, also created for OK Go, was nominated for MTV Europe's Best Video 2006.